Vélo d’Or français


As well as the international award, Vélo Magazine offers a domestic prize to the best French rider of the year. For 2011 the choice was obvious, Thomas Voeckler. As ever this blog has a particular focus on French cycling so here’s a look at Voeckler’s season and the other contenders for the award.

The obvious highlight of the year for Voeckler was the Tour de France where he held the yellow jersey for ten days, defending it in the Pyrenees and the Alps and arguably a tactical mistake on the Col du Télégraphe during Stage 19, from Modane to Alpe d’Huez, cost him 3.22… and he finished in Paris 3.20 down on Andy Schleck. Certainly he missed out on the podium but that’s his style, he’s admitted regret but if he didn’t ride like this maybe he would never have taken the jersey in the first place.

But it wasn’t just the Tour de France. He had eight early seasons, including two stages in Paris-Nice. You sort of expected those results but then came the Giro di Trentino. A warm-up for the Giro d’Italia, this stage race has some big mountain stages. On Stage 2 he escaped with Michele Scarponi and outsprinted him for the win. Then came the summit finish to Madonna di Campiglio where he finished fourth, in company he normally would not keep. He then took the Four Days of Dunkerque. He’s had a fine season and the award for best French rider is surely undisputed.

Voeckler won the poll ahead of his team mate Pierre Rolland and track cyclist Grégory Baugé. Rolland had a great Tour de France, winning the white jersey for best young rider and ending up 11th overall and with the stage win on Alpe d’Huez, dropping Contador and Sanchez on the final slopes. Baugé is world champion in the sprint, and track sprint too and deserves recognition, indeed he won the prize outright in 2009.

Picking other French riders is hard. John Gadret stands out for his fourth place in the Giro d’Italia, including a stage win; this was a very big result for a French rider but got a bit overlooked by the French media (and ahem, this blog too, see the comments below). MTB Julien Absalon has won the award several times before but he’s not having things so easy this year. When you go down the rankings on Cycling Quotient and IG Markets Pro Cycling the next best road rider is Romain Feillu of Vacansoleil. A nice guy, he’s had seven sprint wins this year, plus the overall in the Tour de Picardie. In addition he made the top-5 in the Tour de France sprints.

Perhaps the biggest loser this year has been Sylvain Chavanel. This isn’t to be harsh, it’s just things have not gone his way. He did well in the Tour of Flanders with second place but the way he banged his handlebars after Nick Nuyens outfoxed him shows he’s a French rider who won’t settle for second place. He spent much of the early summer in monastic mode, staying in Font Romeu in the Pyrenees to train for the Tour de France. By all accounts he arrived in peak form for July, winning the French national championships in style after breaking the stranglehold of the Europcar, Cofidis and FDJ teams. But on Stage 5, the day when Edwald Boasson Hagen won, several Quick Step riders crashed and Chavanel came close to abandoning. He carried on in the race but rued the moment.

Voeckler breakfast
Thomas Voeckler's daily breakfast

There are several riders who have positions on the rankings but are less visible. Take Jean-Christophe Péraud of Ag2r, he sits in 28th place on the World Tour rankings… just one place behind Mark Cavendish. But many would struggle to recognise Péraud if he walked down the street. Talented as he is, the former champion mountain biker amasses points via consistency, cracking the top-20 in stage races. He’s good but it’s not exactly French flair or panache. For that, Thomas Voeckler is the supreme example.

20 thoughts on “Vélo d’Or français”

  1. As a big Chavanel fan, I think saying that may be a tad harsh. I really think he would’ve won De Ronde if Cancellara didn’t veer across somewhat, but that’s just a racing situation rather than anything else.

    Also, while his Tour was disappointing, he had four days in the red jersey in August – maybe he could have a tiltt at the Giro in order to complete his GT jersey collection. Only McGee, Millar, Evans and Contador have done it since 1999.

  2. daniel: what I meant was that he came close this year and had a lot of bad luck and as I said above, it’s not meant to be harsh. He did his best but like you say, if things had worked out different he could have a classics win to his name. The Vuelta was good, to see him in the lead after a long season was impressive.

  3. Voeckler did ride an amazing season. If it wasn’t for Gilbert, he’d been my favorite of the season, even without his Tour performance. I mean, his Tour du Haut Var, the Tour Méditerranéen and Paris-Nice were all great. Very aggressive and just plain fun to watch. That’s one Frenchman with serious oeufs.

  4. Jaroslav Kulhavy has haunted Absalon this season, I think Frenchman’s reign over MTB scene is over. Chavanel was blighted by bad luck this season, hope he can come back stronger in 2012 especially with a solid team. As many would agree, future is looking bright for the French cycling scene with young guns Thibaut Pinot, Rolland, Bardet and Demare.

  5. Chavanel’s frustration at second place in Flanders seems emblematic of his determination. I’d like to see him take a Monument. He’s good enough, I think he would have more victories by now were he allowed more chances at Quick Step. It’s tough to be on the same team with Boonen.

  6. I am always surprised not to see Francis Mourey higher in this ranking. He has been consistently in the top 5 cyclo-cross riders in the last few years, one of the few (alongside Lars Boom and Stybar) to be able to make international cyclo-cross events more than just a Belgium championship. That probably tells how little media exposure cyclo-cross get in France, what a shame!

  7. I also think Yoann Offredo deserves some mention for his riding in the spring. He did not win anything but was top-10 at both Het Volk and Milan-San Remo and rode them well, featuring in both finales.

    Along with Chavanel he is probably France’s best hope at bagging a spring classic.

  8. @hamncheeze: yes, I’ve been following him and have done a profile of him on here. Don’t forget Steve Chainel too, he’s won a stage in De Panne already and was racing with Offredo on the Poggio. Although he’s several years older.

  9. Voeckler, c’est an homme avec de la force! He deserves the award hands down and along with Evans, showed the cycling world how you can perform in the TDF without doping. En plus, he’s also a good guy. Having watched him up close in the tour I came away very impressed. Chava had a bad year but he’ll be back — you gotta love his style of riding.

  10. Voeckler consistently displays a tenacity, robustness and ability to endure suffering, characteristics that seem essential for a top flight cyclist. I cannot say that I warm to him (through the TV) but you have to admire what he achieves. Could one also say that he doesn’t display a brittleness of spirit which seems to dog the present day Gallic competitors? I would like to see more French success at the TDF, if only to reward the fans.

  11. Voeckler’s time in yellow was a pure and simple gift. Cadel could not afford to make BMC do the work of the jersey and Schlecond et frere didn’t have the huevos to launch an outright assault. As painful as it was to watch, I’ll admit that Tommy put in a brave ride for the yellow, however, I remember reading accounts from other riders in the peleton talking about how much of a d!ck he is.

    Now that Cadel has won and shown without a doubt that a clean rider can win, the French collectively need to take Hinault’s advice and quit settling for these second rate awards. Voeckler will never be a serious contender for anything better than the top 10 (this year was a fluke) because he does not appear to be dedicated to becoming a complete rider. I hope he soaked up all the glory from his last stint in yellow, because now no team of a contender will ever give him that sort of gap again.

  12. Agree with Steve. Voeckler’s a marked man from now on. Watching this year’s TdF from the UK, I was surprised how good the guy’s English is. Another thing that marks him out from a lot of French riders! I’ll forgive him the grimacing and the play acting, he’s the style of rider that excites the public. A win for Voeckler is good for cycling, no matter what the purists of the peloton say.

  13. agree with Steve – Voeckler took yellow when the peloton neutralised after a bad crash and held it because Evans, Schlecks, and Contador were too busy watching each other. For Voeckler to come out with some comment that he helped Evan on the first day up Galibier was icing on the cake for me. His pic came straight off the wallpaper.

  14. Steve’s comments are spot on. More critical press on the guy the second time around in the yellow jersey. He might actually be more of a dick than you’d normally notice.

    That said, he clearly had the best season of any French rider this year. I believe he was actually leading the protour in wins for a while early/mid-season. So, nice guy or not, he’s earned it.

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